Sunday, April 11, 2010

And here I've meant to keep up

It’s been something like four days I’ve been trying to find a moment to sit down and write this entry, and try as I did I just couldn’t bring myself to fight off the rest of my life to bring it to you. Some things are just more important, and that’s all there is to it. Just the same, it’s been literally months since I’ve updated and I’ve been giving some significant thought to what I wanted to do with this page. I’m currently about 37,000 feet above Pennsylvania and barreling toward Chicago from a weekend trip to upstate NY to visit my grandmother and attend my cousin Ryan’s wedding and since they still don’t have broadband aboard planes (despite it costing $300 for a ticket and involving more security procedures than entry into the Pentagon) I’ve discovered that I’m myself a captive audience and in the perfect frame of mind to make a decision about where I want to go from here.

Some of the better bloggers I know commit themselves to updating their page once a week on a specific day, and that sounded like a great idea. I have most Thursdays off and it would be a perfect opportunity to catch up with writing my own blog along with a host of other responsibilities. The execution of it, however, just seemed inordinately difficult this week. Thursday I literally fell asleep at the keyboard trying to type this and it just didn’t work out. I usually update my status on Facebook every day or every other day and I think for a time (especially now that I have a nifty iPhone and can do it from anywhere) that I used Facebook as a sort of substitute for the writing fix I usually get from keeping this blog. At the end of last year, however, I found that the process I usually go through of searching through my back posts to see how far I’ve come just wasn’t the same. In an internet landscape currently dominated by the Twitter mentality, I felt this odd sort of emptiness that I was trying to reconstruct the last six months of my life in the form of incongruous faux-witty, three-line quips. There’s a place in my psyche, I think, for short-form remembrances, but at heart the process of blogging has always been one of narrative for me, and there’s just no narrative in that short format.


Back I come, to this. Diary-keeping. Blogging. Whatever you want to call it. It’s story-telling after a fashion, and because I’m quite certain that only a handful of my 400+ Facebook friends will even bother to read this it’s story-telling with myself as the primary audience. And I’m OK with that. I think that after some consideration that the reason I didn’t just shit-can this site is because it’s hard to do. Like I mentioned earlier, when I get myself set to write something down here, it’s almost as though life itself bends around my in order to get in the way. But that’s the very value of it. It’s difficult. It requires consternation and sacrifice. In the end, having a coherent narrative of my life has always been the goal of this page, and this it continues to be. In one form or another I’ve kept an intermittent long-form diary for almost twenty years, and I wasn’t about to just give up on that, especially since so much of my life these days feels like a disorienting blur.

Here is my promise to those small few of you who still read this: I will update this page every Thursday for six months without fail. Come hell, or high water. And that includes the promise to myself as well.

But now, onto more pertinent things. I spent the weekend in Watertown, visiting my mother’s mother, whose health is failing. I saw her approximately a month ago when I took the train to NY to visit. As many of you know, this has been extraordinarily difficult for me since for virtually my entire life she has been a guardian-angel-type presence for me. Which is not to say I qualitatively love her any more than anyone else in my family but that instead she was a person that she has gone thousands of extra miles for me and made me feel loved in a special, additional way. I’m sure you all know what this means. Even in the most loving and drama-free of families there are always those special bonds. My niece Katy has one with my nephew Charley, my niece Lucy with my son John. They are the kindred souls within families for which understanding and mutual affection are as natural as breathing. This is the sort of relationship I have with my grandmother Laura. She has been a fixture of virtually every important event of my entire life, even after I’ve spent the last decade living halfway across the country. Despite any other hardship or inconvenience it might cause me, I invariably take the time to visit her even if it’s just for an hour if I’m in that part of New York. I’ve received a Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s, and Easter card from this woman every year of my entire life, without fail, even into adulthood and right up to this current Easter.

She is quite ill now, and the idea that possibly before this time next year her phone calls and photos and holiday cards will fall silent forever has been a devastating reality check for me. Living as far as I do from the Brand family in NY, I feel constantly as though I’m living two lives. Like the protagonist of a bad sci-fi channel time-travel movie, I occasionally get into a plane like I’m doing now and warp from one to the other, only to once again experience the same halting culture-shock I did the first time I moved away or set foot in Chicago. Once I become comfortable again with Chicago being “home base”, I take a trip back to NNY and the process of wrapping my head around it begins all over again. Chicago offers the lifestyle I want, replete with professional and personal successes of every variety. Intellectual fulfillment, opportunity to burn, entertainment to fit my tastes, and most importantly, the Chicago branch of my own new little Brand tribe. Northern New York offers the people I miss most, though, and are completely irreplaceable even in a gigantic city full of virtually every convenience (for a price) you could imagine. This means my extended family, but not only them. I have friends there still, as well. Friends. That legendary class of human being that once held a prominent place in my life and have been hunted nearly to extinction by geographic distance, responsibility, and increasingly by the awful low-grade poverty imposed on my generation by the clash of expectation versus available resources.

All of these things have been sharply present in my mind for these past four weeks as I prepare to face the day when my grandmother is gone. The little kid in me whom she had such endless love and patience for in a thousand ways I’ll probably never even know about is steeling himself for the loss of his lifelong guardian angel, but the adult in me is facing an even more intimidating thought looming just out of the frame: No matter how much of a fixture a person seems they may be in your life, they are not ultimately immortal. And this also goes for a large number of other people I love dearly who seem also not to get any younger year by distant year.

Meanwhile I’m not getting any younger either, and I’m starting to feel a little bit like Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings must have felt. I’m forever showing up either just in time or at random intervals in the lives of people I love with always something pressing and important that I need to accomplish, then I vanish off to deal with something else in the other part of the story that’s happening halfway around the world. I’ve often had a thought when reading those books: how different this story would have gone if Gandalf could have just focused on helping Frodo and Sam take the ring or preparing the defense of Helm’s Deep, instead of shuttling like a badminton birdie across all of Middle Earth putting out fires. I feel like when I go back to Chicago or off to New York, I leave the people in each of these respective lives behind, scratching their heads as if to say “well that’s nice, now what?”

Despite the difficult and sometimes bluntly pointless nature of life in the Northern New York region in general, I do not judge my cousins in the least when they move away from it and move back a few months or years later. As much as I’ve said myself to a number of them “if you want to bring yourself the success you want, you’ve got to get out of this town”, I am just as vulnerable to the crushing home-sickness that it brings when we’ve been away long enough to realize how special it was to grow up in a large, loving family in a small town. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to talk to them about it, particularly the ones who have left and returned, and gotten a sense that I wasn’t alone in feeling the way I do.

As I sit here on this little commuter plane it occurred to me that ten years ago, before 9/11, I could have almost hoped for a life where I could have come to NY for a weekend virtually any weekend I wanted if I was so inclined. Wages were sufficient for most jobs I was qualified for. Homes were affordable, at least to rent, and the airfare for the last trip I took from Florida to Chicago to visit Beth when we first met was $79 on ATA round-trip. Now it’s such an ever-fucking hassle to travel anywhere for any length of time by virtually any means that I find myself scheduling trips from one place to the other around binges of caffeine, comfort food, and doses of Advil for the headaches it gives me. I haven’t for a moment stopped loving being in both places, but I’ve come to loathe the shifts between and how miserable they are in almost every way.

I don't have much more to say on the subject at the moment, and I do realize that this leaves off the blog on a down note, but hey: I promised to update it, I never said it would always be fun.

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